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A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Aspic Sculpture I : an introduction to the "aspic genre"
Saturday, February 20, 2021 | Miles Rufelds
Rising to prominence at wide intervals, serving unusual niches across temporal and geographic expanses, aspics appear again and again as a strange kind of aesthetic sentinel. Their formal and material compositions have remained largely consistent throughout their long history, yet with each new period, the aspic’s cultural role is reinvested with new significance, representing novel cross-sections of the era’s fantasies and fears. To be sure, at first glance my opening examples may seem erratic, verging on incoherent, framing a single culinary object as a cypher for continental philosophy, contemporary art, and historical class tensions. I contend that a careful reading of the aspic’s twisting material and cultural histories can offer us a unique (if eccentric) interpretive lens through which to contemplate the ways aesthetic objects filter and reflect their era’s political-economic antagonisms. I pursue such an interpretive lens in this way, at this time, because in a number of ways aspics have begun to proliferate once again.
Aspic Sculpture Part IV: material poetics / forestalling decay and dissolution / stifling corruption and decay
Thursday, February 18, 2021 | Miles Rufelds
As a dish, the aspic’s practical development has passed through a dizzying range of material interests—aristocracy to royalty to industry to austerity to a kind of uncanny normalcy. All throughout, though, save a few modifications, the aspic’s function has remained consistent: ensconce, maintain, protect, and preserve. Across its many aesthetic manifestations, its migration across social classes, and its distinct pragmatic functions, the aspic’s very materiality has always been silently undergirded  with a material poetics of its own. Though it’s rarely acknowledged by the able-bodied, collagen, from which gelatin derives, is not a neutral substance to mammalian bodies, standing as one of the most primary and precious connective tissues holding joints, limbs, and appendages together. In gelatin, this material function is distilled, abstracted, transposed to unfamiliar shapes, but a basic nature remains. The aspic’s core preservative function, maintaining serviceable shape, forestalling decay and dissolution, is abetted by the very stuff that holds our animal selves together.
Aspic Sculpture II: necessary eclecticism / exploitation, erasure, and decay
Tuesday, February 16, 2021 | Miles Rufelds
The first patent for gelatin production was issued in 1754, but gelatin’s industrial production began with the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the 19th century. With their ports blocked by English fleets, unable to receive properly varied food shipments, French scientists experimented with gelatin as a protein substitute. As we’ll see, this predilection to compensate for austere material conditions repeats as a pattern throughout the aspic’s history. Gelatin plants at this time were a second-order industry, often reliant on the scraps from other factories and processors that worked with animal bones, as well as butchers. While elaborate, molded aspics and jellied deserts were still only accessible to the upper classes, a consolidated research program inaugurated the first industrial-scale manufacture of gelatin, which, paired with the presiding circular economy, opened gelatin consumption to people of any economic class.
Aspic Sculpture III : crumbling worlds / Artificial Enclosures / A Broken Genre / Testbeds of Capitalist Erosion
Tuesday, February 16, 2021 | Miles Rufelds
If Kevin Beasley’s sculptures from A view of a Landscape were largely concerned with countenancing historical narratives, reframing atavistic patterns from the 18th and 19th centuries to emphasize how they remain in place centuries on, Canadian sculptor Catherine Telford-Keogh’s work in the aspic genre reflects squarely on the perversities of contemporary, late-stage capitalism. And if the last essay explored Beasley’s symbolic suspension of exploitation, erasure, and decay, the works I’ll discuss here approach the crumbling worlds of contemporary capitalism by leaning into the encroachment of precarity or decay.